Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disappearing Jobs in the Humanities

Another reason to study public history in this piece from Inside Higher Ed: Disappearing Jobs: "The Modern Language Association's annual forecast on job listings, being released today, predicts that positions in English language and literature will drop 35 percent from last year, while positions in languages other than English are expected to fall 39 percent this year. Given that both categories saw decreases last year, the two-year decline in available positions is 51 percent in English and 55 percent in foreign languages." The article goes on to note that "the declines in each of the last two years are the largest ever recorded by the MLA, since it started tracking the trends in the association's Job Information List 35 years ago. The list has also never had fewer notices of openings."

Though the MLA is about English, the academic history job market tracks quite closely with the broader humanities market. And it should be remembered that these markets were terrible before the current economic crisis, with literally dozens and occasionally hundreds of qualified applicants for every opening. Now the market is at least twice as bad as that.

And there is no reason to expect it ever to improve very much. The end of mandatory retirement means that many teach on much longer than in previous generations (in part to keep the health insurance). Those that do retire are more often replaced by adjuncts and other contingent faculty than by tenure track positions. And the number of undergraduate history majors continues to decline. 

As a professor it is flattering when a student wants to follow in your footsteps. But that path has so narrowed in recent decades that it is effectively closed. Those of us who teach in the humanities have an obligation to firmly tell our charges to forget it. We need to steer them towards alternate careers, such as public history.

[Image via The Tombstone Generator.]


Katrina said...

Thanks for the cheer, Larry. But what you're saying is true. I just looked at the job center handout for the AHA: it's a much shorter list than I've seen in previous years.

We're like carriage manufacturers, c.1900.

Larry Cebula said...

The old mantra remains true: Some people will get TT jobs. That "some" is a shrinking percentage. But as stagnant as academic salaries have been the last decades, I suspect that many PhDs who fail to land a TT job end up in careers where they make far more money than I ever will. The choices are not a TT job or homelessness!

The other thing I worry about is how being a tenured professor will change as the university shifts to a workforce dominated by contingent faculty. Who will oversee the ever-changing parade of anonymous adjuncts who dash in to teach their section and dash off again? How will we keep the accreditors off our backs? My fear is that the job of quality control in the contingent faculty members' classrooms will fall to the dwindling pool of tenure track faculty. Not in place of our current duties of teaching and research, mind you, but in addition to them.

I am just a bundle of joy. Happy Holidays, everyone!

K Landon said...

I hate to say it, but switching to Public History only slightly improves one's chances. There were never ample jobs, and now they're being slashed at record rates.

Larry Cebula said...

K Landon you make an excellent point. Public History is also very competitive, and many states are balancing the budgets at the expense of their state historical societies and historic sites and museums.

Yet Public History is still a much smarter bet than academic history because 1) the job market isn't as bad, 2) public history skills (such as grant writing and public presentations) are more transferable to other careers than are academic history skills, and most of all 3) an MA is the terminal degree in Public History, so the opportunity costs are much lower than pursuing a PhD.

Dale Raugust said...

Thank you Larry for this information. While college teaching jobs in history are disappearing there are still some options available to teach high school history (or social studies). A job applicant with a MA and a PhD (or a JD which is considered equivalent to a PhD on the scale)would receive a starting salary in Washington State of $42,700.00. Of course a teaching certificate would be needed. Because the increased salary is paid by the state and not the school district most districts will hire the candidate with the advanced education. There is also the Teach for America program, part of AmeriCorps, which will hire without a teaching certificate, and then you obtain the certificate during your two year committment. There are areas of the country hiring social studies teachers, including inner cities, Alaska, New Orleans, Las Vegas and poor rural areas like the Mississippi Delta. Anyway, this might be another option for some.